France have recovered strongly from the shock of their opening UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying defeat by Belarus, who remain optimistic of springing another surprise despite a number of selection problems ahead of the reverse fixture in Minsk.
Laurent Blanc's first competitive match in charge of Les Bleus proved a major disappointment as Sergei Kislyak scored the only goal four minutes from time at the Stade de France on 3 September to give Belarus an unexpected triumph. Since then, however, France have gone from strength to strength, winning all four qualifiers without conceding a goal to open up a four-point lead at the top of Group D.
Belarus are in second place although their prospects of upsetting France again at the Dinamo Stadion have been damaged by the absence of eight first-team regulars. Dmitri Molosh, Aleksandr Kulchiy and Sergei Kornilenko are suspended while injury rules out Aleksandr Hleb, Vitali Kutuzov, Sergei Krivets, Vitali Rodionov and Anton Amelchenko.
"France are clear favourites, they have a completely different squad now," said PFC Sevastopol goalkeeper Sergei Veremko. "We've also had to make some reinforcements because of lots of injuries and suspensions.
Everybody understands it will be hard. We have to give our all – not even 100%, I would say 200 – and then hope many other factors fall in our favour."
FC Kuban Krasnodar midfielder Maksim Zhavnerchik added: "We're preparing in a good mood. The fans and the media are speaking about our injuries, but one player can't decide the result; it's all about the team performance, so it's not a major disaster to lose several leaders at once. We have some promising players in reserve who can cover these losses."
For his part, Blanc has been keen to emphasise that France must be fully focused if they are to consolidate their advantage in the section, explaining: "The season is at an end for everybody, the weather's good, but this is a very important game. The staff's responsibility is to remind players how key this is. The players must understand we're not here for sightseeing, we have three games to play and the first one might be decisive."
France play friendlies against finals co-hosts Ukraine and Poland on 6 and 9 June respectively, although midfielder Abou Diaby insists the focus is on Belarus. "The end of the season has not been easy and you need rest but, nevertheless, it's always a great happiness to be back in the French squad. Motivation is back by itself and I'm sure things will run smoothly.
We know what to expect in Belarus, and we'll just have to do what they did in Paris – win away. There's a lot at stake, so it's a very, very important game and we'll have to approach it the right way."
Mathieu Valbuena agrees "motivation is high", adding: "We've made good strides, there's self-confidence in this team and we must stay on this path. There's still a long way to go but having lost to them is something that sticks in our gullets."
One player who will have no need of additional encouragement is newcomer Marvin Martin, who provided Ligue 1's most assists with 17 for FC Sochaux-Montbéliard – although the 23-year-old is not expected to feature this June. "Being here brings just more motivation and happiness," Martin said. "I'll learn even more. It's a big bonus to be here, I want to show my skills. It's intimidating, I watch most of the players on TV, but I've been looked after from the start by everyone. They've all made me comfortable."
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